IYABO OGUNNAIKE: No One to Admire Me and Tell Me How Beautiful I Look

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Her face glistens as she sits quietly in the living room. Her calm, deep eyes reflect images of a love story that seems to end abruptly and irretrievably. The pulse of her heartbeat fills the room as she talks about a subject that resonates throughout an interview session with her. A further glance in the room unveils series of trophies –shiny trophies of various sizes and shapes and in assorted hues. She has at least a hundred of them around the house. Seated in a simple dress and without any costume, her pristine beauty will stop any man in his tracks. How did she come about those trophies? What keeps her beautiful eyes look so distant at times? In an unmistakeable simplicity and frankness with Adedayo Adejobi, Iyabo Ogunnaike talks about a man in her life she lost two years ago – the General Manager of Eldorado Constructions, Jimoh Ogunnaike; her best friend and husband. A champion in 21 major golf tournaments, Iyabo still struggles from time to time to win the fight against the reality of having lost her husband. She also shares the narratives of her experience as a widow – the slander, the neglect and blackmail. Hitting the golden age of 50, Iyabo Ogunnaike feels there is more to her life than struggling with the absence of her beloved husband

How will you describe yourself? 

I am an easy going woman, a simple character; I don’t claim to be what I am not. I am attached to my faith in Christ, and that cannot be detached from who I am. I rely so much on my faith and relationship with God. I take only what belongs to me, and try as much as possible to be honest and I avoid keeping secrets. I try to be transparent as I can.

  What kind of family did you grow up in?

I grew up in a family filled with love. My father was a disciplinarian and a lovable character. He was strict but loved us still; being loved by my parents and siblings, made growing up fun.

 What values did you acquire as a child?

I grew up being true to myself, because my father was a very honest man. He never got along with dishonest people. My father was a simple and easy going man. My mum likes fun and fashion.  She is an easygoing woman.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Plateau State where I had my primary and secondary education. I went further to the Polytechnic of Kaduna. After marriage, I went to Lagos State University.

  What did you study at the Lagos State University?

I had B.A in English; at Kaduna Polytechnic, I studied purchasing and supply.

  When and how did you meet your husband?

I met my husband (now late) while I was at the Kaduna Polytechnic, studying purchasing and supply. He was a part-time lecturer and also worked in the works department. Although he never took my class on any course, we met on the campus in 1984.

  At what point did you decide he was the man for you?

He started by chatting me up. I even thought he had forgotten all about me because I had forgotten him. But that fateful day, four months after, he came. Then I was living with my uncle in kabala. From the first day I met him, he was eager to visit me. But I told him my uncle didn’t accommodate visitors or strangers. That day, he visited despite having warned him about my uncle likely to be around. He assured me he was bold enough and that being in a polytechnic, I was no longer a child. Besides, he just told my uncle he was a friend. We got talking afterwards, and he said he couldn’t get over me after our first meeting. I think that was what attracted me to him. And that was how it started.

  At what point did you decide to marry him? Did he have striking features you admired?

My husband was a very lovable character. My husband was very romantic. He prepared meals for me – even sometimes while I was around he would offer to do the cooking. He was always proud to show me his culinary skills. After getting out of a failed marriage, he wanted to be sure of what he was doing. He did not want another failed marriage. So, that actually guided us because he was a bit careful on his own part. I was too.

  Women generally don’t want to marry a man who has been in a failed marriage; why did you opt for such a man?

I have always been someone with a mind of my own. Even as a teenager, I knew what I wanted. At some point, my parents were worried about me getting married to someone who had experienced a failed marriage – especially because I didn’t know how the marriage failed. I knew enough that he was somebody I loved and I wanted to share the rest of my life with. More so, he loved me in return. For me, in life, love matters a lot to me. I could see that he loved me that was the most crucial thing to me. Besides, he opened up on his past to me.

  What was his profession?

He studied Quantity Surveying and was a part-time Lecturer at the works department in Kaduna Polytechnic. After he got married, he then decided to leave the teaching line and was invited by a firm, May and Brindle. I think his boss then was European. He invited him and when he heard about the salary, it was twice what he earned as a lecturer. He was later transferred from Kaduna to Lagos; that was how we came to Lagos.

 Were you a housewife?

I was initially a housewife when I had my first son. During the naming ceremony, I received some cash gifts and I wanted to start a business with it. I approached my husband and he agreed. So I started a business with that money and he later gave me more money for the business. So I started the business using our garage as my shop; he had to park his car under a tree.

 After marriage, was your husband still cooking the meals?

He continued for some time. He went as far as boasting about his culinary skills, saying I used to be a very good cook. He spoke about how he cooked for his principal and boss. He truly did know how to cook and his meals were delicious. But after we got married, he was no longer like that.

 What do you particularly miss about him?

I wouldn’t say one. I miss virtually everything about him. My husband was like my pillar. When he died, I didn’t think I would survive it (his death); because he was everything to me. He lived his life to please me. Whatever I like he liked. Whatever I don’t like, my husband would stay away from it. Most of his resources were spent by me, the children and charity. My husband was a selfless person. He stood firmly by me; whoever opposed me was opposing my husband. He always made sure I was happy. He is not a perfect being. There are some things I can’t overlook. Some say I should learn to move on, I still think about him. I am learning to move on, but I don’t think forgetting about him is possible. Some fond memories always make me remember him. On several occasions, he bought me special meals from Kaduna, Abuja and Kano. A lot of the things I like and miss like tuwo, masa etc., as a result of the fact that we moved from the North to the South. He would buy these foods in a cooler all the way from Kaduna to Lagos for me to eat. How much I miss him is best imagined! He stood by me and felt my pain. My husband was like the pillar of my life, and so when he died, it was just like my world crumbled. But I kept saying to myself, I would survive it, even though the emptiness was deep. There was nothing more in life I was looking forward to, except my children and  grandchildren.

 Can you tell us about you became a golf player?

Golf is one of the reasons I said my husband is not the person I can forget. He didn’t just start playing golf; he was also a squash player. Because of his health, he was advised to switch to less stressful sport – he chose golf. I made jest of him that how could an old man be running after a white ball on the green and he would laugh. Not too long, I felt overweight and I visited Quincy to lose weight. When I got there, I spent so much money. He didn’t give me money because he said he wasn’t interested in that. Besides, my husband was someone that liked to club and he liked my shape. I was doing exercises. I was always there (Quincy) at a point in time. He then told me I was giving so much money away going to Quincy that by the time I played golf twice my weight would reduce quickly. He enrolled me, bought the kits and then I started to play golf. When I started, I discovered I had developed passion for it. I was always playing golf more than him because he never had much time.

 Is that how you got all these trophies?

Yes. I have some more trophies in the room. He had four trophies, while I have the remaining, totaling over a hundred.

 What handicap have you played?

I have played 27, 30. At some point, I dropped to 26 and 27 and later 11. At points where I didn’t play regularly, my handicap floated between 17 and 20.

  What do you owe to your radiant skin?

I think it is contentment and the special grace of God. I am a content person. I am happy with who I am. I don’t make up (my face). I hardly use any cream on my body. I can go on for three weeks without applying any cream on my body, except when I feel dry. And when I do, I use my E-45 lotion. I also avoid keeping secrets.

  What is your normal day like?

Now, there isn’t a routine. I run a factory where we produce all shades of nylons. Because of electricity problem, I do not produce as much as I used to. Producing with diesel gulps most of the profit. So I decided to limit my production to when there is electricity, special orders and for a few customers we service.

 Having spoken glowingly of your late husband, any plans to immortalise him?

There are so many things on my mind. My husband loved charity works; he gave a lot (to that course). He was the kind of man who would give anything without reservation and any expectation. I know that I cannot do more than he had done. My husband could give everything on him, and later ask me to lend me him N5, 000. He gave to the house of God and the less privileged. I intend to keep that up. I intend to build an orphanage in his name to help the less privileged children and do more charity work.

 Three years after his death, are there times you still feel you are missing him?

I miss (him) every minute, every hour and every day. From cock crow till dawn when he was around, we were always together. We shared everything in common – same toothbrush, sponge and towel. We shared everything. We were so close that my husband got jealous when he wanted me to be indoors but I went out. He always wanted me around him. Whenever he was away (from home) we were always on the phone (communicating). We could chat for hours about life, work, those who hurt us and everything.

 Which of those fond memories do you cherish the most?

There are so many because they happened on a daily basis. We exchanged banters all the time. My husband was a humorous person.

 Who offended who the most?

From my own perception, maybe if he was here, he would say I offended him more. But I will say he offended me most and (he hardly) apologised. Instead of apologising, he would make me laugh over it and then forget about the issue. He always found a way to make me laugh, but he never apologised. He could say sorry with cards when he offended me.

 How did you acquire your tasteful but simple fashion sense?

I got that from my mum. She is a fashionable person even though she had never been to the four walls of any school. My husband loved my simplicity. Growing up, my father never allowed us to use makeup. I tried to impress my husband by using makeup but one day he told me it was my natural look and innocence that he admired most. Since then, I never bothered making up again. My husband will go the extra mile to make sure I wore what I wanted though I was not working. He didn’t care how much it cost. If he saw someone wearing a trouser he liked, he would give me money to buy it. He loved my simplicity, and my fashion sense. My husband didn’t buy so many clothes unless I asked him to buy. Even when he bought them, wearing them was a problem. He believed that to know a rich man, seeing the way his wife dress, you’ll know a rich man from a poor one. He always said once I was well dressed, he was alright. So, waking up to dress up was because of him. Now that he is no more, there is nothing to dress up for. It all feels empty; now no one to admire me and tell me how beautiful I look when I dress. Fashion went with him, until I had to tell myself, I wouldn’t die with him, but instead I will live for him.

 You mourned him for a year after his death. Why?

It was a period I felt this emptiness. I didn’t wear earrings and fashionable dresses; more so, because the whole essence of wearing them had gone. When I woke up, I didn’t feel like putting on anything. Fashion was just like a burden to me. I just wanted to put on something and go out. I was going to the bank with bathroom slippers. Until I put on the courage not to die but live for him and God.

  In Nigeria, being a widow comes with a lot of burdens and responsibilities.  What has been your experience?

I felt very empty when my husband died, as 60 per cent of me died. I was left with 40 per cent to grapple with the society. The emptiness was worsened by pains of betrayal, neglect, rejection, blackmail, and slander. In our African society, a widow is reduced to a brat, who needs to be taught bitter lessons of life by her in-laws. They say they need to level her by chopping off her wings. And for them to do this, they have to blackmail the widow, thus tagging her witch, saying she killed her husband. So that way, they tell the woman to leave her husband’s house and claim the properties to justify their cruelty. The cruel act is so insensitive of them, as the woman is already going through the pain of losing her husband. For them to come and tell her she killed her husband, the pain is so discomfiting. Funny enough this was what my husband used to say while he was alive. But then the angle it came from was not the angle I was expected it. I thought these things happened in a primitive world. I never knew it was the thing that would happen to me. When I watch Yoruba movies, I thought they exaggerated things, until I saw it happen. These are true life stories.

Like they claim, if a woman truly is a witch and killed her husband, she should be handed over to the appropriate authorities. The law should take its due course. People who treat widows in such (cruel) manner, look into their lives and, you’ll find out they cannot even manage their homes. I have been able to overcome because I see myself as a bold and courageous person. If I could go through this, I wonder what an average, timid widow will be going through. I am courageous and could be confrontational, particularly if you try to take me for granted. I will suggest to fellow widows who might be going through difficult times: as a widow, know your rights, boundaries, and never go beyond them. That way it’ll be easier to fight the cause. It is though a long fight that you have to fight all by yourself. And if you don’t get up to fight, nobody will fight for you except God and you. Widows need resilience and courage.

 What does it feel like being a grandmother?

Being a grandmother is another experience on its own, and it gets me back to life. When I started seeing my grandchildren, I felt fulfilled. I knew I was going to have grandchildren but I wasn’t expecting it to be soon. Seeing my children gradually taking up decision-making roles in the family, I began to say to myself these are my children I used to flog. Now, they are beginning to take the lead role at home. I feel fulfilled when in little ways they come to my assistance. When I see my grandchildren, I am so happy. I feel this inexplicable joy. Now, I can talk as an authority, and as an elder. I am not the small wife again. There is a sense of fulfillment; the joy motherhood brings, and I want to live once more.

 Are you then considering remarrying?

I won’t. Let’s not say never; but I don’t think I will ever remarry. Where do I start from? If I get married, the husband will be tired of me one day and said you will go back to this your late husband.

Because I am so attached to him saying that till death do us part. But I didn’t realise that not even death will part me with my husband because I feel him on a daily basis. I can’t think of getting married. To me, it’s like I am betraying my husband. For those who are not old as I am, they could go ahead and remarry. Remarriage is the least thing on my mind. I am Mrs. Ogunnaike and I want to remain so forever.